Fruit or vegetable, now that is the question! Much confusion exists around tomato’s classification, but that doesn’t make homegrown tomatoes any less delicious. Believed to have originated in South America, the tomato plant has made its way up through Mexico to the US and Canada and even to Europe via Spanish conquistadors, where it has since become a beloved ingredient in all manner of cuisines. While the “fruit” part of the plant is clearly edible, the rest of the plant is, in fact, toxic and should be grown somewhere away from small children and furry friends who have a tendency to explore the world with their taste buds. The tomato plant comes in a plethora of varieties which vary in shape, color, size, and taste, so we recommend investigating all your options and selecting varieties that cater to your preferences prior to growing!
New Jersey tends to get a bad rap: traffic, funny accents, Snookie… but one thing that Jersey-ites can certainly be proud of is the Jersey tomato. When it comes to tomatoes, the Jersey reigns supreme, often thought of as unequaled for raw eating, cooking, and canning. The term “Jersey tomato” encompasses a handful of different varieties, including the Ramapo, the Moreton, and the Rutgers. These plants have some minor genetic differences and vary between being determinate and indeterminate, but what they do have in common is a tendency to produce large yields of uniformly shaped, juicy tomatoes with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 18–24″
Space Between Rows: 3–5′
Germination Soil Temperature: 70–90°F
Days for Germination: 6–10
Sow Indoors: 5–7 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: After all danger of frost has passed and soil is at least 60°F. Only recommended if your growing season is long.
Vegetative: Can be easily propagated by taking root or stem cuttings or by layering. Cuttings will root in an aeroponic system or soilless media.
Grows best in warm weather. Be sure that you plant early in areas with short summers to allow time for ripening before the first frost. If your summer is extremely hot (regularly over 90°F), some light shading will help tomatoes stay happy. Not frost tolerant.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Grows best under HID lamps due to their need for tons of light. Use metal halide for the vegetative growth and switch to high pressure sodium when you want the fruit to start forming.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained loamy or sandy soil with a high amount of organic matter. A pH between 6.0 and 6.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
SOILLESS: Start seeds and root cuttings using a soilless mix. Mixes with perlite, vermiculite and/or coco coir will keep your growing medium airy, allowing your plants to produce healthy root systems.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including NFT, slab, and media-based systems. Use perlite or mineral wool as the growing medium.
Aeroponics: Cuttings will root in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Once established, they are fairly drought tolerant. Even soil moisture is necessary to prevent cracking fruits and blossom end rot. Avoid getting water on the leaves.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients. Amend soil with compost and aged manure before planting. Fertilize 3–5 times during the growing season using a balanced liquid fertilizer, compost tea, and/or liquid seaweed.
Pruning: For indeterminate tomatoes like the Ramapo or Moreton, remove suckers—the auxiliary buds that form at the intersection of leaf and stem—to divert that energy into fruit production.
Mulching: Use mulch to conserve soil moisture. Black landscaping fabric can be helpful in warming the soil more quickly and allowing for earlier planting in addition to suppressing weed populations.
Support: Indeterminate varieties, such as Ramapo or Moreton, will need staking, a trellis, cages, or another type of support for best results. If growing a determinate variety like the Rutgers tomato, your plants may benefit from a tomato cage to help to keep fruits off the ground and make harvesting easier.
Deficiency(s): A calcium deficiency can lead to blossom end rot. To remedy, try adding a small amount of crushed eggshells to the soil around the base of your plant.
Rotation: A 3-year rotation away from all plants in the Solanaceae family is recommended. Plant after a cover crop or nitrogen-fixing legume like peas or beans. If nematodes are a problem, plant after tilling marigolds into the soil.
Companions: Grows well with basil, asparagus, beans, bee balm, borage, carrots, celery, chives, cucumber, garlic, lettuce, marigolds, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, and sow thistle. Avoid dill, corn, kohlrabi, potatoes, apricot, fennel, cabbage, and cauliflower. Don’t plant tomatoes under walnut trees.
HARVEST: Pick fruit at the peak of ripeness when there is no green or orange color left for the best taste. Check plants daily or every other day to make sure you don’t miss any ripe tomatoes. They don’t need sunlight to ripen, so be sure to reach all the fruits in the middle of the plant. Some gardeners have suggested waiting until the end of the summer to pick the majority of your fruits since being left out in the sun longer can reduce wateriness, making them crisper. If you decide to give this strategy a try, keep a close eye on your plants to ensure that you aren’t losing many of these delectable fruits to rot, especially in humid climates. Wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting to protect your skin from potential irritation that some people experience after contact with tomato leaves.
Storage: Keep fresh tomatoes at room temperature for 2–3 days for the best taste. Handle gently and store ‘upside down’ with the stems carefully removed. If you can’t eat your entire harvest, we recommend preserving tomatoes rather than refrigerating them, since this alters the texture of the fruit.
History: Jersey tomatoes actually fell out of favor in the 1990s after they started to lose flavor for mysterious reasons and were deemed too soft to ship to other locations. Sadly, they began to be replaced by other “tougher” varieties of lesser quality that could withstand being sent across the country without bruising or cracking. Following the receipt of numerous letters complaining of the loss of the old-fashioned, tastier Jersey tomato, the Rutgers University Extension program took the wheel and developed a newer and better Ramapo tomato that’s reminiscent of the original, superior Jersey tomato. We say thank goodness for that!
Preserve: Tomatoes are easy and fun to can as sauce, cubes, or peeled and whole. Green tomatoes can be made into a chutney or salsa and canned or pickled.
Prepare: Can be used to make sauces, salsas, ketchup, and soup, or used raw in salads or on sandwiches. Green tomatoes are delicious sliced, breaded, and fried.
Nutritional: Provides high levels of vitamin(s) A and C. Also a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and calcium.
Medicinal: Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant compound that is currently being investigated for its cancer fighting and cholesterol lowering abilities. Lycopene may also help your skin protect itself from UV damage. Regular consumption may also help protect against heart disease.
Warnings: Tomato leaves can be a skin irritant for some, so wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting.
We get it: sometimes you just need something greasy and fried. It happens to the best of us! But why not throw something nutritious in that deep, golden crispy batter with these amazing Fried Jersey Tomatoes! Instead of regular milk, we recommend almond milk. The nuttiness of the milk mixed with the sweet tomato flavor is guaranteed to impress!
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